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Opening a New Door at the Lower East Side's Historic Seward Park Library


$6.3 Million Branch Renovation Celebrated at Opening Ceremony May 7

New York, NY, May 3, 2004 -- Since 1909, millions of Lower East Side residents have climbed the steps of the stately Seward Park Library to lift themselves toward the hopes and accomplishments so many of them brought as immigrants to the United States. The worn marble treads of the building's graceful double staircase are one of many links to the past that have been retained in a sparkling $6.3 million renovation which, among its improvements, features a grand new entrance on the building's broad flank facing Seward Park. After nearly two years of work on the restoration, The New York Public Library's Seward Park Branch will welcome the public back to its newly refurbished site at a May 7 reopening ceremony that will be attended by Library President Paul LeClerc, Senior Vice President and Director of the Branch Libraries Mary K. Conwell, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, City Council Members Margarita Lopez and Alan Jay Gerson, and Gladys Thomas, Vice President of The Starr Foundation.

"When it first opened in 1909, the Seward Park Library must have seemed like a sumptuous refuge for the residents of the crowded tenements that were typical of the neighborhood," said Paul LeClerc. At 20,000 square feet, the library, which overlooks William H. Seward Park, is one of the largest neighborhood branches in The New York Public Library system. President LeClerc added, "Now that this renovation has brought back its original grandeur, while building in the latest library technology, this magnificent branch will be one of the greatest and most heavily-used branches in the city."

The renovation has refreshed and restored the library's physical structure while also adding such long overdue features as air-conditioning and an elevator to the five-level building. One of the most noticeable changes devised by Kevin Hom+Andrew Goldman Architects, the firm responsible for the renovation design, is a striking new main entrance formed from one of several large windows along the side of the library that overlooks the park. Previously the library's users entered the building through a narrow leg that faces East Broadway.

Other features include 30 public-use computers, a community room, a story-hour room for children's programs, a new security system, and new lighting fixtures. Also included are

workrooms, offices, and a conference room for the Library staff. Many of the original oak furnishings, including bookcases, cabinets, window trim, and other items, have been restored and reused, and all the new woodwork was selected to match the original in a careful plan to maintain the building's historic character.

The Seward Park Branch Library was renovated through The New York Public Library's Adopt-a-Branch Program, through which private donors join public funders to restore branch libraries. The renovation was made possible with private funding from The Starr Foundation and public support secured by New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the City of New York: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker A. Gifford Miller, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, City Council Member Margarita Lopez, and City Council Member Alan Jay Gerson.

"A strong library makes for a strong community. That is why I have fought throughout my career to expand funding for, and access to, our public libraries," said Speaker Silver. "I have been especially proud to support the restoration of the Seward Park Library because I understand the need for good libraries, not only for books, music and movies, but also for employment information, Internet access, healthcare resources and many other vital purposes. This restoration will greatly enhance the ability of the Seward Park Library to fulfill its mission on behalf of the many people in my district who rely heavily on it, such as recent immigrants, seniors and students."

"We are thrilled to be a part of this renovation," said Gladys Thomas, Vice President of the Starr Foundation. "Branch Libraries are essential community resources. We are proud to participate in the Adopt-a-Branch program and to help this Lower East Side neighborhood."

"The people who built this Library more than ninety-five years ago had great foresight," said Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. "At that time this neighborhood was filled with immigrants who needed the resources of such a large library to help them adapt to their new country. Although the neighborhood has evolved, throughout its history this branch has always been one of the most heavily-used in the system. I am so pleased to have been able to help restore the Seward Park Library so it can continue to serve the needs of its users."

"By providing access to new computers, high-speed Internet service, and special research databases, we get closer to making sure that all New Yorkers can get the resources they need to thrive and move ahead in today's society," said City Council Member Margarita Lopez. "Investing in the upgrade and maintenance of our libraries helps provide New Yorkers with the tools to grow and to make their own contribution back to the community."

"We're delighted that with this renovation all of The New York Public Library's branches are finally air-conditioned," said Mary K. Conwell, Senior Vice President and Director, The Branch Libraries. The branch features a new central air-conditioning system with ductwork that has been cleverly designed to mesh with the building's original architecture. "Now we can retire the electric fans that once whirred in the reading rooms and offer a comfortable environment for our readers all year round," Conwell added. Another important new feature is an elevator that provides access to the public and staff areas on the building's five levels. This and numerous other improvements, including an outdoor entrance ramp, make the Library fully compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

The majority of the Library's services for the public are located on the first, second, and third floors. Each of these levels features approximately 70 by 40 feet of open space for reading, shelving, computer stations, and service desks. The rooms have 13-to-17 foot ceilings and tall windows that provide bright natural light and attractive views of Seward Park. On the first floor, users will find popular circulating materials such as new fiction, videos, and audio recordings. The second floor is devoted entirely to children's resources and, in addition to book stacks and reading areas, features a separate story-hour room. The third floor features adult nonfiction, young adult fiction and nonfiction, and the Library's reference and periodicals collections. In recent years the third floor had housed the Library's Center for Reading and Writing (CRW), a program for English-speaking adults learning to read and write. The CRW will now be located on the lower level. The building's fourth floor will be used for administrative and staff functions and will contain the office for the New York Public Library's South District, which oversees the eight libraries in Lower Manhattan.

"I offer a warm welcome back to the Seward Park Library," said Alan Jay Gerson, who is now the City Council Member for the Library's district. "It's a good day when we can open the doors to a building that offers so much to the members of our community now and for the future."

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